Perfection-er

In my previous post, I talked about feeling quite depressed over my lack of inactivity and my feeling of uselessness, as I stayed home in most days. Turned out I was just bored and that I needed to change my perspective and attitude. God was preparing me for something bigger, better, and busier.

Last week, I started school. (I can’t believe I’m already in my senior year!) I knew that over the next ten months, I would be needing a lot of strength, wisdom, and grace because not only was I going to be busy, but I was going to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually challenged. Thus, on the eve of my first day of school, I posted a status on my Facebook account:

statusI didn’t realize these verses would be applied immediately, on the first week of school! God immediately granted my desire for useful activity, and oh, how much responsibilities He gave me! Firstly, the requirements for my majors (which comprise all of my subjects this semester) required intense, long hours of reading, reading, reading, reading…did I mention reading? Secondly, God revived His movement in my campus and specifically told me to be part of its core team when our youth pastor, Kuya Marty, told me to contact everyone and set a meeting. Then a friend of mine from a department in our youth ministry, ELEVATE, informed me that both of us were made admins of the host team. Add to that my commitment to meet two girls in school for Bible study, plus my own Dgroup upline (i.e., the group I attend for my personal “spiritual feeding and nourishment”), blogging, and Sunday School ministry. My hands and my plate were (at least from my point of view) overflowing with tasks!

At first I feared taking all these responsibilities (and until now I’m still praying and asking God if He can, if He will, put some on hold) because I feared not being able to juggle all of these with the growing demand in school, which was my primary ministry. Earlier this afternoon in our school chapel, this fear of incompetence and failure gnawed at me again. After my last class, I headed to the chapel to pray and have my quiet time because I wasn’t able to do so in the morning. I started thanking God about the fun day I had, and then I proceeded to the more serious stuff that really bothered me: the growing responsibilities and my fear that I would fail to deliver excellently. I reminded Him that I was bad at fulfilling my commitments, that I don’t want to fail Him and the people who were counting on me. I also told Him about my confusion about how to balance all these things and to deal with my insecurities (which still bother me)–my bad skin, increasing weight, baggy eyes even if I sleep early–and my unanswered questions about Him. In short, I was confused, disorganized, and fearful–all the things I utterly despise and do my best to escape from! As I dwelt on these negative things (a bad, bad idea), I started to cry. First in the volume of cologne sprays. Then a 500-liter water bottle. Then faucets. Inside the silent, public chapel. That’s when God, in His love and mercy, began conversing with me in my mind. I started it when I prayed, silently:

“Man, why did I even stay here? Why do I have to cry here? It’s so embarrassing…..Lord, You know my struggle. You know I’m bad at commitments. You know I want everything to be organized. Please guide me.”

Then amazingly, God replied.

“Honey, I want you to trust Me. I brought you here because I wanted to hug you, to let you know that I delight in you. I love you! I am delighted at you because you are walking in My will. Don’t worry! I love you, child.”

Of course, the pessimistic me did not believe, at least not completely. So God said:

“You’re here to have your quiet time, right? Okay open to Psalms, the chapter’s number is the date today.”

I said (in my mind): “Yeah, right, how am I sure I’m not just making this up and going after my feelings? Does God even do this?”

Although my question went unanswered at first, I went to Psalm 18 anyway. What I read shocked me and opened another valve in my eyes for more tears to flow. Here were some of the opening verses:

I love You, O Lord, my strength.”
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

Verses 7-15 talked about awesome and terrifying things God did–earthquakes, consuming fire, blazing coals, darkness, hailstones–the apocalyptic sort of thing. I thought: “Seriously, God? Lord, are You…mad at me?” I wasn’t getting the idea. Not until I started reading from verse 16 all the way until the end in verse 50. Here were some of the verses that struck me:

He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the Lord was my stay.
He brought me forth also into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.

With the kind You show Yourself kind;
With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;

The Lord my God illumines my darkness.

As for God, His way is blameless;

The word of the Lord is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?

– Psalm 18:1-3,6, 16-3,25, 29-32 (emphases added)

By the end of the chapter I was lamenting. Thankfully I kept it inaudible, except for my occasional snorting, but I was relatively quiet. But wait…there’s more! God replied with an even more personal message.

“See? Of course I still speak to My children in a very personal way! You see, I am delighted in you. You are not in sin in the sense that you remain in it habitually. Honey, I know that you are very particular about the smallest details. I am, too. I like details, too. I also think they are very important. And yes, I am after perfection. But you see, I am not a perfectionist in the sense that I judge you and condemn you for your smallest mistake. I am not a perfectionist; I’m a perfection-er. I am perfecting you. I know that throughout the perfectioning process, you won’t have it all together. And that’s okay. As long as you trust Me and obey Me and fear Me (and you do, all these things), I am with you. Okay?” 🙂 

I thought the overwhelming emotion I felt was a result of the difficulty of management. I haven’t even started some of them! The real issue was that, I was afraid of making mistakes. I feared failure so much, I recoiled at the idea of having too much responsibilities and a lot people to be accountable to. God also told me that time that the key was not to avoid responsibility, but to eliminate everything that hinders me and the sin that so easily entangles me so that I can run with perseverance the race that God marked out for me (Hebrews 12:1-2). I had to remove the distractions and just focus on the main thing, and to keep it the main thing at all times. God wouldn’t have allowed me to be given these tasks or He would have told me to let them go had He not given me the strength, power, and ability to fulfill them. 🙂

I also learned that God wasn’t utterly strict in the perfectionist sense. I was. It’s unfortunate how the “don’t-sin-or-else-God-will-thunder-lightning-on-you” ideology from Greek mythology and other pagan literature still influenced me. I had an erroneous view of God. Surely God feels saddened when I sin, even the smallest one. But that doesn’t mean He is totally displeased with me that He won’t talk to me or that I should expect to be disciplined tomorrow. No matter what happens, we must always remember that God is LOVE. Everything He does stems from His love. Nothing He does is done out of hatred the way we humans hate, or apathy. Even God’s “hate” towards people is grounded on love. Especially with children who sincerely seek Him and do His will, He is ever gentle, patient, merciful, and gracious. He knows our weaknesses. That’s why He’s perfecting us, because we have deficiencies. That’s also why He’s patient, because He knows we’ve been so used to this faulty system that we think it’s normal. But, no. His perfection and His holiness should be our norm. There is no middle ground.

If you have a perfectionist tendency like mine or if you, too, feel like escaping responsibility for fear of failure, may I encourage you today to pause, take a deep breath, and know that God does not desire to condemn you? Really, He doesn’t. The process hurts but it doesn’t mean God hates you. In fact, the fact that He’s investing so much in you–disciplining, molding, mentoring, discipling, guiding, providing for you–means that He really, really, really loves you! Also, I pray that you (and I) will realize that failure is not final. Neither is success. We fail, we get back up. We succeed, we move past that, otherwise we become complacent or even recalcitrant when we’re told to move forward. C.S. Lewis put it perfectly when he wrote in his book, Beyond Personality:

“…God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.”

So trust His character. It’s the only thing that remains constant in this ever-changing world. 🙂

After that drama session with God, I wiped my tears and went out of the chapel with my head held high. I may not have all the facts together nor am I relieved of the chance of failure, but I know that I am kept safe by the One Who goes before me, the One who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side! Above all, this Perfection-er of mine loves me. And really, that’s more than enough. 🙂

Reference:
Lewis, C.S. (1947). Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea of God. New York: The Macmillan Company. 
New American Standard Bible (NASB). (1995). The Lockman Foundation. via BibleGateway.com.

 

Ms. Right

On our way home tonight, my brothers and I were having a conversation. James, our youngest, out of the blue, told us he hasn’t tasted or seen unleavened bread, and then he asked me why it was so flat.

“Well because it doesn’t have yeast, so it’s flat. It doesn’t rise like normal bread.”

Hearing this, my other brother, Josh, interjected with a “fun fact” on unleavened bread:

Sabi ni Sir RC mas makunat pa ang unleavened bread sa SkyFlakes.” (“Sir RC told us that unleavened bread is chewier than SkyFlakes.”)

Wait, what? “SkyFlakes is not chewy at all! It’s crispy!” I told this rather defensively to my brother, as if I was debating which superhero is better, Captain America or Iron Man, to their die-hard fans.

But Joshua insisted. “No, it’s makunat daw. He said.”

But no! He was wrong, and I was right. I defended my position again, this time, with more passion in my voice: “Ano kang makunat?! Ang lutong kaya ng SkyFlakes! Hindi siya makunat! Pag hinati mo ang dali-daling baliin, ano ka ba–-”

“JENNY!! JENNY! SSHHHH! SSSSSHH!!”

Mom. She cut off my argumentative monologue and aired hers. “Why are you so defensive? Huh? Why do you speak like that?”

“No, I’m not.” (Yes, I was. And  I knew it.)

“Why do you talk like that? You know what, you’re a bully. You sound like a know-it-all, like Ms. Righteous. You don’t always have to prove you’re right!”

That shut me up alright.

My ego was attacked head on, but my heart responded in a rather positive way. Sort of.  I didn’t react or defend myself again (because that would have been really stupid). When I looked at James he smiled at me and stuck out his tongue, and I also returned the favor by smiling and sticking out my tongue as if to surrender my right to be right. And for the rest of the ride (which was only a few minutes away after that “heated” argument), I kept all my rights to myself.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I always want things right, as much as possible. In a world where everything that’s right goes wrong, the way I’m thinking is a tad fantastic. Lately, God has been teaching me that my notion of being right all the time is not the same as Him being right all the time. Mine may be tainted with ill intentions or lead to negative consequences (as proven by my unleavened bread experience); God’s righteousness is always based on good intentions and always results in positive consequences. Christianity is not all about getting things right, about following rules to “avoid God’s wrath.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Christians should be loose and not totally do what’s right; I’m saying we shouldn’t be legalistic. I’m saying that as human beings, we have to deal with the reality that everything we do, say, and think can be wrong because imperfection is in our nature. I realized there are only two things you can be sure about the human race: mistakes and death.

Anyway, back to being right. When I got home and thought about my being Ms. Right, I thought about parts of my life that I always want to be right. The first thing that came into my head was Mr. Right, also known as GB (God’s Best), “the one,” soulmate or whatever way you want to call it. Hollywood has philosophized a lot of times on the subject of finding Mr. Right–how he seems to have all or almost all the characteristics you’ve been looking for in a husband, how he’s got you checking one item after another on your checklist. In church and retreats I’ve attended that talked about waiting and preparing for your lifetime partner, I’ve heard speakers suggest that we make a checklist on the qualities that we look for in our future husband. This suggestion fit my “right theology.” So I made my list. (But that’s another story of its own) Tonight, I rethought about that list and about Mr. Right, especially after what our pastor said earlier this evening in the worship service:

“What many people don’t realize is that marriage is a lifetime commitment to a defective individual.”

Let’s face it: there really is no Mr. Right or Ms. Right. I realized that when dealing with the human race, mistakes are more common and more predictable than successes. I also realized that looking for a suitable helpmate (in the future, for me) involves more than just looking for someone with desirable qualities; it is also figuring out what specific flaws and “defects” a person has that you can deal with…for the rest of your life. Waiting for people to change is futile. As has been said many times in different ways in so many movies, books, and whatnot on love: “You love a person for who they are, not for what they will become.”

So….what does that have to do with me being Ms. Right? A lot. Tonight, I had a mini-eureka moment. The SkyFlakes argument triggered that. If it weren’t for the question on the unleavened bread, my brother’s interjection, and my sudden outburst, I wouldn’t have realized how much time I’ve wasted displacing my anger and right to be right on things that shouldn’t be fought over, more so, debated on. I don’t always have to prove I’m right. Heck, I’ve never been consistently right! I’ve flunked almost everything, even the things I’ve been doing for so long–school, diet, sleep (by sleeping late…just like tonight), blog entries (I’ve revised this entry about three times), relationships (i.e., friendships), and all my other responsibilities. The Bible already said it: “There is no righteous, no not one.” Me proving myself to be right when I’m not supposed to just proves how wrong I am! The real righteous and good people do not have to prove themselves, just as a cheetah does not need to prove himself to a puppy that he can outrun him. Ms. Right sometimes needs to learn to take a backseat, let things “go wrong,” and laugh. Chill. Keep calm. As for looking for Mr. Right, she should be looking both at his sweet and sour parts, and see if she can deal with both.

Before she even searches for her Mr. Right, Ms. Right must first learn to accept her sweet parts and sour parts, and the fact that she doesn’t always have to be right. She doesn’t always have to win an argument. Or else, she would be no different than a bully.

Ms. Right and her minions a few months back
Ms. Right and her minions a few months back